Women in Arkansas are being blocked from getting abortions due to new rules forcing them to track down a test for coronavirus and get a negative result beforehand.
A federal judge has upheld the rules after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state over the new policy and stated it infringes the constitutional right to having a pregnancy terminated.
The ACLU, which represents the only abortion clinic in the entire state, argued the coronavirus tests are very difficult to procure and abortions are timely procedures which should not be delayed by the obstacle of obtaining a test.
Holly Dickson, legal director at ACLU of Arkansas, hit out at the judge’s decision to uphold the new rules.
She said: “The urgency of the situation in Arkansas cannot be overstated. People cannot pause their pregnancies, and this politically-motivated restriction is already pushing care out of reach. This ruling will extend that harm.”
The ACLU argued the new policy could force some women into postponing their abortions until a date which is beyond the state’s legal deadline for having the procedure. The cut-off point is 21 weeks and six days after a woman’s last period.
Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said: “Make no mistake, Arkansas politicians are outright barring people who have decided to have an abortion from getting one and instead forcing them to stay pregnant and have a child against their will.
“A state should never prevent people from making a decision about a pregnancy that is best for themselves and their families. But doing so during the pandemic, when people are losing their jobs and doing everything they can just to keep their families healthy and make ends meet, is beyond cruel. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that people can get the care they need.”
Brian Miller, the district judge, concluded the choice was “agonisingly difficult” to reach due to the new rules curbing people’s freedom but argued the need to safeguard public health during a global pandemic made the policy acceptable.
He said: “This directive applies equally to all surgical procedures and does not single out abortion providers or surgical abortions.”
Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas attorney general, said the policy which demands a negative coronavirus test result for women who require abortions was one element of wider state rules which necessitates negative test results for any individual who needs to have any form of elective procedure.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, fiercely criticised the policy and argued tests remain out of reach. “In Arkansas, a new law requires a negative #COVID test within 48 hours of a scheduled appointment to be able to get an abortion,” she tweeted. “Also in Arkansas, you cannot get a Covid-19 test if you are asymptomatic and no one is turning tests around in 48 hours. See what they did there? Terrible.”
Lori Williams, director of the abortion clinic, submitted an affidavit which explained she had been striving to help women track down Covid-19 tests for weeks but was struggling.
She said she had got in touch with more than 15 testing services but had not been able to find one which was able to provide tests for patients who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus and give results back in the space of 48 hours. This forced her to turn away eight abortion patients who were unable to conform to the new rules, Ms Williams said.
Arkansas, a state in the south of America, limited elective abortions during the coronavirus crisis but the restriction was relaxed at the end of April.
Politicians and abortion rights campaigners across the US have used the Covid-19 emergency to roll back abortion rights and attack women’s sexual and reproductive freedom. A slew of states have attempted to capitalise on coronavirus to introduce abortion bans.
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